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PROPYLAEA (προπύλαια: also occasionally in the singular, προπύλαιον), properly the space before the gate, is the name usually applied to a porch or entrance of elaborate architectural construction. Thus it is applied by Herodotus to the “Pylons” of Egyptian temples (2.101, 121, &c.). The name is, however, by ancient writers used almost exclusively with reference to the great entrance of the Acropolis at Athens, built by the architect Mnesicles under Pericles (Plut. Pericles, 13; Suidas, s. v. &c.): this was begun in 437 B.C., and was provisionally completed in five years, though its original plan was never fully carried out, and though 2012 talents were spent. The Propylaea of Mnesicles took the place of an earlier building, of which the foundations and part even of the walls may still be seen. The kernel of the whole structure is a wall pierced by five doors. Of these the central is largest, and admits a carriage-way; the two on each side are raised upon five steps, as approached from the west; those at the extreme sides are smallest. The wall is of white Pentelic marble, with a base of black Eleusinian marble, such as may also be seen beneath other walls, columns, and windows in the Propylaea. On the east of this central wall, facing the Acropolis, was a Doric portico of six columns, projecting from two antae which terminate on the east the two walls which bound the entrance-way on the north and south: to the west of the five doors, there is between these two walls a rectangular court, of which the roof is borne by six Ionic columns in two rows parallel to the north and south walls: to the west of this, again, is a [p. 2.503]portico of six Doric columns, corresponding to that upon the east face: this west portico is flanked upon the north and south by wings, fronting one another with a face of three smaller Doric columns between antae. The north wing is complete, consisting of a small hall behind the columns and a large chamber opening by a door and two windows into the hall. This chamber contained pictures by Polygnotus and others (Paus. 1.22), and is therefore sometimes called, in modern works, the Pinacothece; no trace of appliances for fixing pictures to the wall has been found. The south wing was originally intended to match this, being, however, open to the west, to face the bastion with the temple of Νίκη: but for some reason, probably priestly objections to infringement on the temenos of Artemis Brauronia, the plan was curtailed. The north face was left as originally designed, but the N.W. corner anta with its architrave was left isolated, and the roof only continued as far as the third column towards the west: the southern portion also was omitted, and a wall built to enclose a portion only of the intended hall. The principal west portico was crowned by a pediment; above this rose a second pediment, resting on the central wall, of the same height as that over the east front. The north and south wings of the west front were covered by hip roofs running down to the western corner. These wings on the west were, in the original intention, to be overlapped by two great porticoes facing the east, and occupying the whole breadth of the hill: part of the foundations of these, as well as the antae to face their columns and the arrangements for their roofing, may still be traced, but they were never erected; nor were the blocks left rough in the stones of the completed walls, to facilitate transport and fixing, ever worked off.

Character of work.--The completed parts of the Propylaea offer perhaps the most perfect example, for execution and finish, of Doric architecture of the best period. The architrave is slightly curved, as usual; not so the stylobate, because it is cut in the middle of the two principal fronts by the road, which also necessitates an exceptionally broad intercolumniation in the middle. The Ionic columns of the central hall have the most perfect specimens of the Attic Ionic capital, and served as a pattern for later examples. They are of a quite different character from those of the Erechtheum. The Propylaea are entirely without architectural sculpture. They contained, however, the statue of Hermes Propylaeus and the Charites of Socrates.

Approach.--The sacred way led from the south side of the Acropolis close under the bastion on which stands the little temple of Νίκη ἄπτερος: thence in the earliest times in a zigzag track first to the S.W. corner of the north wing (where the pedestal of Agrippa was afterwards erected), and thence to the central gate. In Pericles' time the direction was still the same, though the road was terraced up to a higher level. A broad flight of steps, with a roughed path for beasts in the middle, was added in later Roman times. The present steps are modern, and at a lower level. Probably the approach was shut off on the west by a wall, which formed the real barrier, at the foot of the slope; that now visible in this position, with a gate, is of late construction.

Imitation.--A work of such wide fame naturally gave rise to imitations; the best known are the two, the smaller and the greater, at Eleusis. Pausanias (2.3) also mentions one at Corinth.

(Bohn, Die Propyläen du Akropolis zu Athen, Berlin and Stuttgart, 1882, where earlier authorities will be found; Dörpfeld, in the Mittheilungen d. deutschen Institut zu Athen, 1885, 10.38 if., 131 ff., where the original plan of Mnesicles is discussed; Penrose, Principles; of Athenian Architecture, London, 1888; a good short account in Baumeister's Denkmäler des klassischen Altertums, pp. 1414-1422, with plans and elevations after Bohn and Dörpfeld.)


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